Procurement skills, expertise lacking
31 October 2019 | Government
While many hoped that the public procurement law, which came into effect in April 2017, would mark a turning point in the governance of public procurement, the eighth edition of the Procurement Tracker of Namibia (PTN) states that the “continuing capacity conundrum” continues to bedevil the effective implementation of the Act.
The PTN, a watchdog project launched by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), states that a “system-wide lack of competence and professionalism is clearly at the heart of why the public procurement system is underperforming and largely dysfunctional.”
IPPR research associate Frederico Links argues that since the law came into force two and a half years ago, it has become clear that a lack of competent and professional staff is hampering efforts to put in place a “modern and efficient public procurement system”.
The IPPR says the procurement systems and bodies put in place “remain mired in problems – not least a series of capacity issues”.
The PTN notes that high-level officials, including finance minister Calle Schlettwein and Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, have publicly spoken about the lack of capacity.
A draft strategy developed by the procurement policy unit, made available for input in early 2018, noted that while “technical staff have at least a degree in a professional field, on the whole public procurement staff have not followed a formal course in purchasing and supply management, and most of them have as qualifications grade 10 or 12”.
The draft document bemoaned the “large capacity gap” among public officials steering procurement actions and said there was a “need for a new breed of procurement professionals”.
The policy unit said there were 178 public-sector procurement entities, and estimated that there were about “1 000 officers of offices, ministries and agencies, state-owned enterprises and local authorities” in need of training on procurement.
The document concluded that a realistic approach was required and it should be “conceded that it may not be possible to achieve professionalism among all the existing procurement staff”.
The latest PTN edition lists a number of major issues confronting Namibia's procurement system, with “significant non-compliance with sections of the law” and a lack of capacity at the policy unit and board topping the list of challenges.
The PTN report warns that “the mal-implementation of the law and its regulations could significantly undermine or permanently weaken the efficiency, transparency, accountability, integrity and value-for-money aspects of the framework”.
Other issues hampering the law's implementation include a general lack of procurement expertise and capacity at organisation levels, weak oversight of procurement processes, “unclear and confusing” legal provisions, delays in crafting and implementing regulations and “large-scale lack of accountability for mismanaging or maladministration of procurement processes”.
Another major challenge that the PTN has frequently put in the spotlight is the widespread failure by government institutions to publish annual and individual procurement plans.
The tracker shows that by October this year, out of 178 government procuring entities, only 54 appeared to have submitted annual procurement plans to the policy unit as required by law, which accounts for only 30% compliance.